I had recently turned 23 years old when I first lost my license for drinking and driving. A lot of things happened that year. I fell in love for the first time. I went overseas for the first time. It was a big year.
Firstly, I’d like to share why I’m sharing these parts of my life. I recently drew out a timeline of my life. I’d recommend it, to celebrate the joys and to reflect on the times when you have experienced intense spiritual growth, which usually involves guilt and shame. As a seeker, I’m always looking at integrating the light and the dark. For a long time, I didn’t give my past any credence. I believed that I had processed it and I was over it so there’s no point giving it any attention. It’s just a “story” and you’re not limited by the past in terms of what you create in the present or the future.
However, at this point in my life, I think it’s important to share with others how I have moved through situations that have caused me intense shame, guilt and grief and how these experiences have shaped my life and increased my self-compassion. I think we all need to learn how to do more of that so I’m choosing to open my closet of skeletons and show others that if I can do it, so can you.
So the experience itself wasn’t a big, dramatic story. I’d been invited to party and the students there were actually demolishing and burning parts of the house. It sounds pretty crazy although not so much when they had the landlords permission as the house was been knocked down. I remember big forty-four gallon drums in the back yard with fires burning and drunk students thinking they were superheroes ripping weatherboards off the house and burning them.
I hadn’t had much to drink. I had taken a bottle of wine which was only about half full from the night before. A guy that I had a crush on, who would later become my boyfriend, was there. I remember that anxiety of liking him and wanting to make an impression but feeling shy. The awkwardness of it all. However, I wasn’t out of control and drinking to release the tension as I had done in other situations. I was just drinking to be involved and to have some fun.
We decided to leave. There were plenty who wanted a lift to go into town and continue drinking there. I volunteered to take people as I had only had half a bottle of wine. I had Tulip, my little red Mitsubishi Mirage, and before I knew it I had a whole bunch of people crammed into this tiny car. We thought it was funny.
I had literally driven about a kilometre before I was pulled over. The flashing lights behind you, the shock and adrenaline. If you’re ever been pulled over you can relate. It’s intense.
I remember the cop saying to me “How many people do you have in your car?” I responded ” I don’t know. Maybe 5?” I was uneasy but pretty confident I was ok. I’d only had half a bottle of wine.
He stood there and counted as the guys jumped out of the car. “1,2,3,4,5…6….7….8!” His tone increasing with judgment with every person who appeared.
The guys left, some of them actually ran. I was taken to the police station. My flatmate Jackie came with me. I was processed, breathalyzed and had my keys taken off me and then released. I was just over the limit which I found shocking because….yes….that’s right….I’d only had half a bottle of wine.
I went back into town to find the others with my flatmate. The last thing I really remember about that night was being in a bar and Marc Ellis, former rugby league player and celebrity, was there. Jackie rushed up to tell me and I yelled at her “I don’t care if Marc Ellis’ b#lls are on fire, I just lost my license!”. It just so happened that I yelled it just at that moment when the music stops. My despair was never-ending.
Although it was shocking and I experienced a huge amount of shame, it was about time. You see I had had a cavalier attitude towards drinking and driving prior to this. You know, just having a few drinks, thinking that you’re ok and then driving home. The line got blurry on how much was just over the line and sometimes I was WAY over. It’s amazing how you can justify it to yourself. You’re hardly in a place to tell once you’ve started drinking.
Did I feel out of control in this particular situation that led to my arrest? No. Did I feel drunk? No.
However, I was GUILTY. I had been arrested, judged and found WRONG. There was no way I could change the situation. I could have killed someone. Not just that night, all the other nights too.
I was GUILTY well before I got behind that wheel. I had already judged myself wrong for the myriad of reasons that I wasn’t perfect well before I got caught drinking and driving. I wasn’t successful enough, not intelligent enough, not accomplished enough, not connected enough, not beautiful enough. I was guilty before I even got to court. Looking back on this, I’m able to have self-compassion. I was 23 years old. I was just a kid.
I was unworthy. I was unlovable. The only thing different was that now I had confirmation from the New Zealand judicial system of how wrong I was.
I lost my license for 6 months and got 100 hours of community service. I did gardening at the Foundation for the Blind.
It was a key turning point in my life and this was just the FIRST time I lost my license. The next time happened years later when my intuition was screaming at me to get out of the situation I was in but I was drowning out that voice with alcohol. More on that some other day.
What did I learn about being arrested?
Shame is awful. There is no-one who can shame you as much as you shame yourself and there are plenty of people who want to shame you to relieve themselves of their own guilt. I was fortunate to have parents that although they were upset and distressed, they did not shame me further. I did a great job of that all by myself.
The manifestation of being arrested was the symptom, not the cause. Like I said, I was already guilty before I got to the courtroom. Being tried by a judge was a relief. The self-flagellation and self-abuse were already occurring.
The Universe was helping me by giving me a massive reality check. I was avoiding my wounding and acting out. I’m grateful to this day that I didn’t kill anyone and that the Universe saved me from that level of grief. I already had oceans of grief I was working through.
It can be easy to see yourself as evil in situations like these. What is required is atonement and love. The sin is being paid for in the way you feel. Love helps you to heal but you need to develop it within yourself and no-one else can do that work for you.
We all have had experiences that we are ashamed of. Sometimes we have been the perpetrator and other times we have been the one perpetrated. Either way, healing is still required for both parties.
It’s not easy to share this information as I know everyone has their own experiences and opinions. Maybe you’ve experienced the shame of being so out of control you have gotten behind the wheel and done this yourself. Maybe you’ll become angry and self-righteous reading this. I truly believe there is nothing you can say to me that I haven’t already said to myself.
Maybe you’ve even lost a loved one to a drunk driver. If that is the case I am truly sorry for your loss. Not that it’s an excuse but nobody who really loves themselves gets behind a wheel and drives drunk. On some level, they are hurting and as we know, hurt people hurt others.
I chose to forgive myself. It took a long time as I did it again about 5 years later but that’s a post for another day.
Healing is an act of love and I’m glad I made the decision to do it. Now I get to help others to heal so they don’t continue to hurt themselves or others. This is my greatest act of atonement.
(Atonement to me means identifying your mistakes and coming back into alignment with the Universe. It means choosing love.)
I’d love your feedback. All of it. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sending you love, healing and grace,